As head coach, Joe Golding left the court following ACU’s loss to Kentucky 79-44, you couldn’t help but notice the chants from the arena. Despite the loss, Wildcat fans had been treated with a first-time appearance in NCAA tournament.
Chants of “ACU” echoed throughout the building disregarding the scoreboard. Golding had accomplished the season’s goal by getting to the tournament, and he couldn’t be prouder.
“I’m proud of our guys. They didn’t quit,” Golding said. “They represented our university and our city in a first-class manner tonight and they’ve done that all year, so I’m extremely proud of them.”
The atmosphere at Veterans Memorial Arena was electric for the fans to witness and especially for the players as well.
Senior forward Jaren Lewis capped off his college career putting up a team high, 17 points and five rebounds for ACU in his final game wearing the purple and white.
“It was a great experience being out there for March Madness and everything,” Lewis said. “It was great knowing it was the first time in our school’s history, but at the end of the day, it stings losing like that and being me, Jaylen and Hayden’s last game, it hurts, but it was a great experience, probably something we’ll never forget.”
The postgame press conference featured ACU coach Joe Golding and all three seniors on the roster. And these people should be in the spotlight to finish the season. They carried a team to the NCAA tournament, not only for the first time in program history, but also in only the school’s second year of eligibility.
For the Kentucky Wildcats, they seemed to perform more than adequately enough without their star player, sophomore guard P.J Washington, who sprained his foot in the SEC tournament.
Freshman guard Keldon Johnson carried the load for Kentucky putting up 25 points and six rebounds on 10-16 shooting. As a team, they shot the ball at a 54 percent clip compared to ACU’s 32 percent.
Despite going up against players much bigger in size and taller, the Wildcats held their ground pretty well against a team that could likely be a national champion at the end of this season.
Before the game, Calipari happened to bump into former ACU head basketball coach, Garnie Hatch, who coached the Wildcats from 1969-74. Calipari discovered that he was invited to come along with the team for this historic game, and that resonated with him.
“I went to get a pizza today. And a guy comes up to me and said,’I used to coach at Abilene Christian, and coach asked me to come on the trip.’ I told Joe before the game that’s more impressive to me than anything,” Calipari said. “I said, too many in our profession forget where this all started, and the guys that came before us who made that path for our families to be able to do what we’re doing and be paid obscenely, and its been guys like that.”
One win from Golding has put ACU and the city of Abilene on the map. And now, the Wildcats’ future is in good hands.
“We’re losing three really good seniors, but we’ve got some good young kids back,” Golding said. “We’ve got to go sign four guys, we thought we were just signing two.
We’ve built this on high school kids and a culture and really developing, evaluating talent and trying to develop, and so we might have to get creative in recruiting here through grad transfers.”
Golding was the last person to take credit for a successful season. He gave credit to many people, including his opponent on the court.
“I think our president and board, they had a plan. They wanted to put ACU on the national map and for the last 48 hours we were, and a lot of that is due to the University of Kentucky,” Golding said. “We owe the University of Kentucky a lot for being able to have the opportunity to compete with them.”
Next season will look much different for ACU fans, but Goulding has put the program on the map which should set up a great future for seasons to come.